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Furlough had a protective effect on mental health – but it wasn’t as good as working

A new study looks at data from thousands of people across the UK.

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In March 2020, a few days before lockdown was introduced, the UK government launched the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, widely referred to as “furlough”. This scheme provided employees who were unable to work due to the pandemic with 80% of their pay (capped at £2,500 per month).

The purpose of the scheme was to keep people in jobs while their employers couldn’t necessarily afford to pay them. An estimated 25% of UK workers were furloughed at some point, with the number peaking at 8.9 million people in May 2020. Other countries ran similar schemes.

The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s mental health. At the same time, we know employment status correlates with mental health variations across the population. There’s good evidence for the connection between continuous employment and positive mental health, while job loss and unemployment have detrimental effects on a person’s mental wellbeing. But the specific impact of furlough on mental health was yet to be investigated.

To better understand how furlough affected British workers’ mental health, I worked within a team of 21 researchers to assemble survey data from across the UK. In our new paper, we’ve looked at nine studies with a total of 25,670 respondents aged 17 to 66 during the period from April to June 2020.

The studies we used were longitudinal datasets tracking people in different parts of the UK over time, so before and during the pandemic. By combining estimates flowing from these datasets, we were able to look at changes in employment and mental health across the British population.

In particular, we looked at different types of employment transitions, including the transition from employment to unemployment (regardless of whether people lost their job due to COVID or for another reason), and from employment to furlough. We also included people who remained employed, and people who were not employed before the pandemic (the stable unemployed).

We examined the relationships between these employment transitions and different indicators of mental health. These included psychological distress, low life satisfaction, self-reported health (that is, the way respondents perceive their own general health) and loneliness.

In our analysis, we accounted for various factors that might affect the results, including gender, education and pre-pandemic mental health.


Read more: The end of furlough: Londoners and workers over 50 will be hardest hit – new research


We found that compared with furloughed workers, those who lost their jobs were more likely to report psychological distress, poor health, low life satisfaction and loneliness. But when compared with those who remained working, furloughed workers were at greater risk of each of these outcomes.

For instance, people who were furloughed were 14% more likely to report low life satisfaction compared with those who remained employed, while people who lost their jobs altogether were 32% more likely.

Employment disruption increased the risk of poor mental health

An infographic visualising the results of the study.
COVID-19 National Core Study, Author provided

In other words, the study shows that furlough occupies an intermediate position between employment and unemployment. Furlough had a protective effect for those who were at risk of losing their job, but was not as beneficial as remaining at work.

One possible reason for this trend might be that the furlough scheme partly protected the “manifest functions” of work (for example, financial security), but didn’t provide its so-called “latent functions” (such as the feeling of being useful).

We also found the effects of furlough aren’t necessarily the same across the population. For example, furloughed female workers were at higher risk of poor self-rated health compared with men.


Read more: Second lockdown left women feeling worn out – while men complained of boredom


The use of a furlough scheme at such a large scale is new in the UK.

While the UK Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme officially ended on September 30 2021, given the protective effects of furlough on mental health (compared with unemployment), a scheme like this could be considered again if new pandemic-related restrictions had to be implemented down the track, or even in the case of future economic shocks.

But it’s not as protective as employment, and should be used sparingly, with particular attention to the gender difference in the way it is experienced.

This work was supported by the National Core Studies, an initiative funded by UKRI, NIHR and the Health and Safety Executive. The COVID-19 Longitudinal Health and Wellbeing National Core Study was funded by the Medical Research Council (MC_PC_20030).

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How bonds work and why everyone is talking about them right now: a finance expert explains

Investor confidence in the UK is at a low, and the bond market has reacted dramatically.

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The Bank of England is buying bonds again. Just as it was about to start selling the debt it had accumulated as part of its last effort to support the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the central bank has been forced to announce a new scheme to shore up investor confidence.

The bank’s £65 billion short-term spree aims to address the slump in bond prices caused by investors rushing to sell after the government’s recent mini-budget. This led to a surge in bond yields that hiked borrowing costs for the government and spread to pensions, housing and the general economy. So far, it has had a limited initial impact on the markets.

We asked an expert in finance to explain what’s going on in bond markets.

What is a bond and what is the difference between bond prices and yields?

A bond is essentially a tradeable IOU. It’s a loan that investors make to issuers such as companies or governments (UK government bonds are often called gilts). A bond has a price at which it can be sold and a yield, which is an annual amount the investor receives for holding the bond, a bit like interest on a savings account, and is expressed as a percentage of the current price.

When the price of a bond falls, it signals less demand for the bond because fewer investors want to own it. At the same time, the yield rises, which represents a higher cost of borrowing for companies or governments that issued the bond because this is what they have to pay to investors.

In the days since the government’s mini-budget, yields on 10-year Treasury bonds – which are issued by the UK government – increased from approximately 3.5% to 4.52% – the highest since the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. The expectation of continued increases prompted the recent intervention by the Bank of England.

UK government 10-year bond yields

United Kingdom 10-year bond yield. Investing.com / Tradingview

What causes bond yields to move?

To understand this, it is important to bear in mind that, while people often talk about the interest rate, there are actually a number of rates. This includes the rate at which the central bank lends to commercial banks (the base rate), the rate that banks lend to each other (the interbank rate), the rate that the government borrows at (Treasury yields) and the rate at which households and firms borrow (commercial loans and mortgages).

When the Bank of England changes the base rate, this cascades through all these rates. As such, the Bank of England carefully considers the state of the economy – that is, growth and inflation – when deciding on the base rate.

When an economy is growing, interest rates and bond yields tend to rise. The occurs for several reasons. Investors sell bonds to buy riskier assets with better returns. Firms and households also look to borrow more money in a growing economy, for example, to invest in new machinery or to move home. More demand for borrowing means lenders can charge higher interest on their loans.

Higher inflation often accompanies economic growth because of the increase in demand for goods and services. This tightens supply and causes prices to rise (including wages for labour). The Bank of England, which is mandated by the government to try to keep inflation as close to 2% as possible, will respond to higher inflation by raising base rates, which, as noted, feeds through to the different rates.

Investors will often anticipate the increase in base rates and look to act before it goes up by selling Treasury bonds and buying alternative, higher return, assets. This causes bond yields to rise further. As a result, the Treasury bond yield is often seen as a predictor of future Bank of England base rate changes.

So, if yields are rising, does this mean that investors are expecting future economic growth in the UK?

No, not at the moment. When the government raises money by issuing bonds, it does so over a range of time periods (called maturities), from one day to 30 years. When an economy is expected to grow, the yield on longer-term bonds will be higher than the yield on shorter-term bonds.

This relationship between yields across different maturities is referred to as the term structure or yield curve. An upward sloping yield curve implies a growing economy. At the moment, the UK yield curve is flat, or even downward-sloping across some maturities. My research shows that a falling yield curve is a good predictor of a coming recession.

Yield curve for UK government bonds

Line graph showing downward-sloping yield curve for UK gilts
UK gilts 40-year yield curve. *The curve on the day of the previous MPC meeting is provided as reference point. Bloomberg Finance L.P., Tradeweb and Bank of England calculations

It’s important to remember that these different yields act as a benchmark for commercial lending rates of equivalent lengths. The approximate jump to 4.5% in 2-year and 5-year yields has been reflected in mortgage rates, which is why some lenders have pulled available mortgage deals recently while they reassess the lending rates charged to households.


Read more: Is the UK in a recession? How central banks decide and why it's so hard to call it


But if the UK economy is not expected to perform well, why have bond yields been rising after the chancellor’s mini-budget announcement?

The rising bond yields we are seeing relate to an additional factor: the amount of government debt. The mini-budget introduced tax cuts and increased spending and investors know the government will need to increase borrowing to meet these commitments. Some estimates put potential government borrowing at £190 billion due to this plan.

An increase in the amount a homeowner borrows versus the value of their home (called the loan-to-value) causes the mortgage rate charged to the borrower to rise. Similarly, an increase in the amount of bonds that the government will be looking to sell (the amount it wants to borrow) will push down the price of existing bonds, increasing yields. More importantly, more debt without growth raises the risk level of the UK economy.

Anticipating this, investors triggered a large-scale bond sell-off after the government’s mini-budget announcement. This contributed to the fall in the value of the pound as investors selling UK Treasury bonds bought US bonds instead, essentially swapping pounds for dollars.

So will the Bank of England’s plan work?

The intervention will have a short-term positive impact, which started as soon as it was announced. But the bank is really only buying time. Any ultimate success depends on the government restoring investor confidence in its economic plans.

Unfortunately, rising yields and borrowing costs for the UK economy is the price we are now paying for the government’s recent fiscal announcement.

David McMillan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Zika Vaccine Targeting Nonstructural Viral Proteins Found Effective in Mice

UCLA scientists report positive preclinical results on the safety and efficacy of an RNA vaccine (ZVAX) against the mosquito borne Zika virus that severely…

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Positive preclinical results on the safety and efficacy of an RNA vaccine (ZVAX) against the mosquito-borne Zika virus that severely compromises brain development in children of infected mothers, were published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum on September 28, 2022 “Replication-Deficient Zika Vector-Based Vaccine Provides Maternal and Fetal Protection in Mouse Model.” The investigators tested the vaccine in pregnant mice and report the vaccine prevents systemic Zika infection in both mothers and developing fetuses.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the power of a strong pandemic preparedness plan and clear communication about prevention methods—all culminating in the rapid rollout of safe and reliable vaccines,” said senior author of the study, Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, DVM, PhD, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). “Our research is a crucial first step in developing an effective vaccination program that could curb the spread of Zika virus and prevent large-scale spread from occurring.”

Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, DVM, PhD, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is a co-senior author of the study.

Engineering the vaccine

The experimental vaccine is composed of RNA that encodes nonstructural proteins found within the pathogen that trigger an immune response against the virus.

Arumugaswami said, “Engineering the vaccine involved deleting the part of the Zika genome that codes for the viral shell. This modification both stimulates an immunogenic reaction and prevents the virus from replicating and spreading from cell to cell.”

Eliminating structural proteins that mutate rapidly to escape the immune system also ensures that the vaccine trains the recipient’s immune system to recognize viral elements that are less likely to alter. The researchers packaged the replication deficient Zika vaccine particles in human producer cells and verified antigen expression in vitro.

Nikhil Chakravarty, a co-author of the study and student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health
oversaw data analysis and writing of the manuscript.

“We deleted not just the gene responsible for encoding the capsid, but also those encoding the viral envelope and membrane. This vaccine is replication-deficient—it cannot spread among cells,” said co-author of the study, Nikhil Chakravarty, a master’s student at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

Chakravarty clarified, “The deletion itself does not lead to stimulation of immune response but it makes this vaccine safer by rendering it replication deficient. The nonstructural proteins encoded by the RNA packaged in the vaccine stimulate more of a T-cell immune response that can specifically recognize Zika-infected cells and prevent viral replication and the spread of infection.”

The team showed increased effector T cell numbers in vaccinated versus unvaccinated mouse models. Using mass cytometry, the researchers showed high levels of splenic CD81 positive T cells and effector memory T cell responses and low levels of proinflammatory cell responses in vaccinated animals, suggesting that endogenous expression of the nonstructural viral proteins by the vaccine induced cellular immunity. There were no changes in antibody mediated humoral immunity in the vaccinated mice.

Co-author Gustavo Garcia, Jr., oversaw and conducted much of the experimentation reported in the study.

“We saw complete protective immunity against Zika virus in both pregnant and nonpregnant animals, speaking to the strength and utility of our vaccine candidate,” said Chakravarty. “This supports the deployment of this vaccine in pregnant mothers—the population, perhaps, most at need—upon further clinical evaluation. This would help mitigate some of the socioeconomic fallout from a potential Zika outbreak, as well as prevent neurological and developmental deficits in Zika-exposed children.”

The investigators administered the RNA vaccine using a prime-boost regimen where an initial dose was followed up by a booster dose. To estimate the durability of the vaccine, the researchers monitored the mice for a month-and-a-half, which is equivalent to approximately seven years in humans.

Chakravarty said, “Since the vaccine is geared toward stimulating T-cell response, we anticipate it will induce longer-lasting immunity than if it were just stimulating antibody immune response.”

Pandemic preparedness

The global Zika outbreak in 2016, led to efforts in developing effective therapies and vaccines against the virus. However, no vaccines or treatments have been approved for Zika virus yet.

“Other Zika vaccine candidates mainly focused on using structural proteins as immunogens, which preferably stimulates antibody response. Our candidate is unique in that it targets nonstructural proteins, which are more conserved across viral variants, and stimulate T-cell-mediated immunity,” said Chakravarty.

Epidemiological studies have shown that the Zika virus spreads approximately every seven years. Moreover, the habitats of Zika-spreading mosquitoes are increasing due to climate change, increasing the likelihood of human exposure to the virus.

“Given that RNA viruses—the category to which both Zika and the SARS family of viruses belong—are highly prone to evolving and mutating rapidly, there will likely be more outbreaks in the near future,” said Arumugaswami.

Kouki Morizono, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA is a co-senior author of this study.

“It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing the virus spread again,” said Kouki Morizono, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA and co-senior author of this study.

Before the vaccine candidate can be tested in humans, the researchers will be test it non-human primate models.

The post Zika Vaccine Targeting Nonstructural Viral Proteins Found Effective in Mice appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

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Why is Russia sending oil and gas workers to fight in Ukraine? It may signal more energy cutoffs ahead

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not hesitated to use energy as a weapon. An expert on global energy markets analyzes what could come next.

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The new Baltic Pipe natural gas pipeline connects Norwegian natural gas fields in the North Sea with Denmark and Poland, offering an alternative to Russian gas. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Russia’s effort to conscript 300,000 reservists to counter Ukraine’s military advances in Kharkiv has drawn a lot of attention from military and political analysts. But there’s also a potential energy angle.

In its call for reservists, Russia’s leadership specifically targeted oil and gas workers for the draft. One might assume that energy workers, who provide fuel and export revenue that Russia desperately needs, are too valuable to the war effort to be conscripted. But this surprising move follows escalating energy conflicts between Russia and Europe.

The explosions in September 2022 that damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, and that may have been sabotage, are just the latest developments in this complex and unstable arena. As an analyst of global energy policy, I expect that more energy cutoffs could be in the cards – either directly ordered by the Kremlin to escalate economic pressure on European governments or as a result of new sabotage, or even because shortages of trained Russian manpower as a result of conscription lead to accidents or stoppages.

Dwindling natural gas flows

Russia has significantly reduced natural gas shipments to Europe in an effort to pressure European nations who are siding with Ukraine. In May 2022, the state-owned energy company Gazprom closed a key pipeline that runs through Belarus and Poland.

In June, the company reduced shipments to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which has a capacity of 170 million cubic meters per day, to only 40 million cubic meters per day. A few months later, Gazprom announced that Nord Stream 1 needed repairs and shut it down completely. Now U.S. and European leaders charge that Russia deliberately damaged the pipeline to further disrupt European energy supplies. The timing of the pipeline explosion coincided with the start up of a major new natural gas pipeline from Norway to Poland.

Russia has very limited alternative export infrastructure that can move Siberian natural gas to other customers, like China, so most of the gas it would normally be selling to Europe cannot be shifted to other markets. Natural gas wells in Siberia may need to be taken out of production, or shut in, in energy-speak, which could free up workers for conscription.

European dependence on Russian oil and gas evolved over decades. Now, reducing it is posing hard choices for EU countries.

Restricting Russian oil profits

Russia’s call-up of reservists also includes workers from companies specifically focused on oil. This has led some seasoned analysts to question whether supply disruptions might spread to oil, either by accident or on purpose.

One potential trigger is the Dec. 5, 2022, deadline for the start of phase six of European Union energy sanctions against Russia. Confusion about the package of restrictions and how they will relate to a cap on what buyers will pay for Russian crude oil has muted market volatility so far. But when the measures go into effect, they could initiate a new spike in oil prices.

Under this sanctions package, Europe will completely stop buying seaborne Russian crude oil. This step isn’t as damaging as it sounds, since many buyers in Europe have already shifted to alternative oil sources.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, it exported roughly 1.4 million barrels per day of crude oil to Europe by sea, divided between Black Sea and Baltic routes. In recent months, European purchases have fallen below 1 million barrels per day. But Russia has actually been able to increase total flows from Black Sea and Baltic ports by redirecting crude oil exports to China, India and Turkey.

Russia has limited access to tankers, insurance and other services associated with moving oil by ship. Until recently, it acquired such services mainly from Europe. The change means that customers like China, India and Turkey have to transfer some of their purchases of Russian oil at sea from Russian-owned or chartered ships to ships sailing under other nations’ flags, whose services might not be covered by the European bans. This process is common and not always illegal, but often is used to evade sanctions by obscuring where shipments from Russia are ending up.

To compensate for this costly process, Russia is discounting its exports by US$40 per barrel. Observers generally assume that whatever Russian crude oil European buyers relinquish this winter will gradually find alternative outlets.

Where is Russian oil going?

The U.S. and its European allies aim to discourage this increased outflow of Russian crude by further limiting Moscow’s access to maritime services, such as tanker chartering, insurance and pilots licensed and trained to handle oil tankers, for any crude oil exports to third parties outside of the G-7 who pay rates above the U.S.-EU price cap. In my view, it will be relatively easy to game this policy and obscure how much Russia’s customers are paying.

On Sept. 9, 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued new guidance for the Dec. 5 sanctions regime. The policy aims to limit the revenue Russia can earn from its oil while keeping it flowing. It requires that unless buyers of Russian oil can certify that oil cargoes were bought for reduced prices, they will be barred from obtaining European maritime services.

However, this new strategy seems to be failing even before it begins. Denmark is still making Danish pilots available to move tankers through its precarious straits, which are a vital conduit for shipments of Russian crude and refined products. Russia has also found oil tankers that aren’t subject to European oversight to move over a third of the volume that it needs transported, and it will likely obtain more.

Traders have been getting around these sorts of oil sanctions for decades. Tricks of the trade include blending banned oil into other kinds of oil, turning off ship transponders to avoid detection of ship-to-ship transfers, falsifying documentation and delivering oil into and then later out of major storage hubs in remote parts of the globe. This explains why markets have been sanguine about the looming European sanctions deadline.

One fuel at a time

But Russian President Vladimir Putin may have other ideas. Putin has already threatened a larger oil cutoff if the G-7 tries to impose its price cap, warning that Europe will be “as frozen as a wolf’s tail,” referencing a Russian fairy tale.

U.S. officials are counting on the idea that Russia won’t want to damage its oil fields by turning off the taps, which in some cases might create long-term field pressurization problems. In my view, this is poor logic for multiple reasons, including Putin’s proclivity to sacrifice Russia’s economic future for geopolitical goals.

A woman walks past a billboard reading: Stop buying fossil fuels. End the war.
Stand With Ukraine campaign coordinator Svitlana Romanko demonstrates in front of the European Parliament on Sept. 27, 2022. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

Russia managed to easily throttle back oil production when the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed world oil demand temporarily in 2020, and cutoffs of Russian natural gas exports to Europe have already greatly compromised Gazprom’s commercial future. Such actions show that commercial considerations are not a high priority in the Kremlin’s calculus.

How much oil would come off the market if Putin escalates his energy war? It’s an open question. Global oil demand has fallen sharply in recent months amid high prices and recessionary pressures. The potential loss of 1 million barrels per day of Russian crude oil shipments to Europe is unlikely to jack the price of oil back up the way it did initially in February 2022, when demand was still robust.

Speculators are betting that Putin will want to keep oil flowing to everyone else. China’s Russian crude imports surged as high as 2 million barrels per day following the Ukraine invasion, and India and Turkey are buying significant quantities.

Refined products like diesel fuel are due for further EU sanctions in February 2023. Russia supplies close to 40% of Europe’s diesel fuel at present, so that remains a significant economic lever.

The EU appears to know it must kick dependence on Russian energy completely, but its protected, one-product-at-a-time approach keeps Putin potentially in the driver’s seat. In the U.S., local diesel fuel prices are highly influenced by competition for seaborne cargoes from European buyers. So U.S. East Coast importers could also be in for a bumpy winter.

Amy Myers Jaffe does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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